Ghana I may have won the race to be the very first Peace Corps group to begin service, but Peace Corps Colombia may be the very first Peace Corps contingent to produce a comprehensive and complete history of programs in a specific host country. The Friends of Colombia Peace Corps Archives at American University is the reason why.

In 1999, the RPCV alumni group, Friends of Colombia initiated an archive for Peace Corps at American University in Washington DC, focusing on Peace Corps programs in Colombia. AU Librarian and RPCV Pat Wand (Col VIII), RPCV Bob Colombo, and other members of Friends of Colombia were essential to the creation and success of this archive. Today, Archivist Susan McElrath guarantees its continued success. For over a decade, artifacts and materials have been collected from RPCVs and staff. The focus has been on Peace Corps Colombia, but the archive also includes important documents showing the founding and development of the National Peace Corps Association and the alumni group, Friends of Colombia. Information about the Archive and a finding aid describing the donations can be found at:

http://www.american.edu/library/archives/finding_aids/friends_of_colombia_fa.cfm

From the website:

Scope and Content Note

The archive documents the organization since its founding in 1999 as well as the experience of Peace Corps volunteers and staff who served in Colombia from 1961 to 1981. This collection is divided into the following categories:

Peace Corps

National Peace Corps Association

Friends of Colombia

Colombia

Returned Peace Corps volunteers

This is an abridged version of the inventory. For additional information on this collection, please contact American University Special Collections.

Two unique elements of Peace Corps Colombia’s experience help to make this archive so valuable. Colombia I was the second pioneer Peace Corps group and the first group to be trained and deployed as Community Developers. Community Development was to become one important element of  many future Peace Corps programs. Peace Corps’ original tenure in Colombia was twenty years, 1961 to 1981. This relatively short span facilitates the organization of a more complete record. Thirty years separates then and now so that an accurate history should not compromise the confidentiality of the many counterparts and HCNs from that time.  Peace Corps has recently returned to Colombia with a small group of TESL teachers.

The unique organization of Peace Corps influences what is considered a public or federal record and that definition varies from administration to administration. Ordinarily, a public record is a document produced by a civil service employee or political appointee during the course of doing the public business. But, Volunteers, who are not political appointees or civil service employees, do the work of the “public business” in Peace Corps.In the course of their service, Volunteers produce materials, such as curriculums, site reports, programs descriptions, correspondence, and photos. Rarely are all these materials collected or preserved by the Peace Corps agency. Although such materials may be initially retained, they may be ultimately destroyed. Such documents would have been the source documents for the history of each group in each host country, if Peace Corps had decided to create such histories, but it did not. The materials are precisely the kind and quality of artifacts and materials that have been donated to the Friends of Colombia Peace Corps archives at American University.  The collection now has irreplaceable documents that may yield that first complete host country history created by RPCVs.

Among those documents is a book prepared by CARE that has descriptions of all the first community development Peace Corps sites in Colombia. These were also the first such sites in the world. There is the portfolio of research documents about the Education Television program gathered and donated by the ETV Volunteers of 1966. The archives also has a complete list of all the groups that served in Colombia, their training locations, program descriptions and biographies of all members. Official Peace Corps does not now keep such information.

One intriguing document is “A Short History of Evaluation Within the Peace Corps: 1962 - 1987,” by Winthrop Morgan, a Peace Corps staffer who is also a RPCV. This report, dated January 15, 1988, was done in-house at the Peace Corps. It is a public document that has been preserved in the private archive. It includes a list of sources about evaluations done to that date and Morgan’s own administrative timeline describing how each successive administration handled evaluation. The report circulated among staff and carries handwritten notations from them. It also refers to an “Institutional Memory Project Notebook.” That Notebook, if it could be located, would be so valuable. Does anyone have it?

The Friends of Colombia Peace Corps Archives is still accepting donations. If you are interested in making such a donation, please contact:

Susan McElrath

University Archivist

American University Library

Please copy and paste this email in your browser for further information:  archives@american.edu

Please note: Peace Corps  does not prepare a comprehensive history of work done by each group in each host country.  However I did find one such document published by Peace Corps. It is Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, The Legacy 1992 - 2002. See: the Peace Corps On Line web page: http://historyofthepeacecorps.org